AGH UST graduate wins ABB prize for master thesis on system controlled by brain waves

photos from the archives of ABB

Piotr Palczewski, MSc, a graduate of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Robotics, has become a laureate of the prestigious competition for the ABB prize. His master thesis “Developing a system for entering text using EEG brain waves” was appreciated by the jury, which awarded the author first prize and the amount of PLN 30,000.   

The innovative system called NeuroGate is meant to help paralysed people to communicate with the world. The so-called “head set” is put on the paralysed person’s head, and the electrodes recording EEG signals pass them directly on to an application. The system works on a tablet and recognises three types of signal: neutral, cancelling, and positive, i.e. denoting acceptance. In this way, the paralysed person can use the interface as well as the table of signs. The cursor changes the lines at regular time intervals, and the user signals the acceptance of the choice of a line and a letter. Using this method, it is possible to write full sentences. The first two weeks of using the application is training time, during which the algorithm analyses signals sent by the user, and the user learns how to generate signals suitable for the computer. Thanks to the training, the system begins to work similarly to a text editor and a dictionary on a smartphone, which suggests words most frequently chosen by the user. With time, the system begins to operate better and better, and the algorithm becomes more and more efficient. Additionally, the application is paired with a speech synthesizer, which can read out the text written by the user. The system provides the choice of a language, and at the moment the available languages are Polish, English, and German. 

The system developer’s intention was to help people in a real way. Thanks to an investor, work on a prototype commenced in early 2016, and in June of the same year the system was already finished. Since then, the project has been continuously improved. Its most important element is the application that had been written by Piotr Palczewski from scratch, and its commercial version is currently being developed by a professional programmer. Proper tests with users are going to begin this year.  

“I hope that in the next few months we will be able to reach the last phase of introducing NeuroGate to the market,” says the young constructor, and he adds: “The system developed by me is different from the solutions currently available on the market, as it does not require any action or muscle control. Therefore, it can be used by people who are completely paralysed. There are a few similar products that are currently being tested, but the market is open and has great potential. Surely, an advantage of NeuroGate will be a reasonable price. With NeuroGate, we want as many people as possible to be able to communicate with the world.” 

The idea of such an innovative project, and the topic of master thesis, occurred quite unexpectedly, during a trip on a bus. Piotr Palczewski wanted to do something that would be useful for people. Stuck in a traffic jam, he thought that it could be a system that would enable paralysed people to communicate with the world. 

To take part in the competition for the ABB prize, the AGH UST graduate was encouraged by a desire to find out about the opinion of experts working in the field of technology. The prize will make it possible to go ahead with the plans connected with the project. 

The supervisor of the winning thesis was professor Mariusz Giergiel of the Department of Robotics and Mechatronics at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Robotics. 

The competition for the ABB prize has been organised by the ABB Research Centre for several years. The main prize and distinctions are being competed for by the authors of submitted and defended master and bachelor theses, as well as doctoral dissertations written in Polish or English, which deal with topics in the fields of power engineering, automatic control and industrial diagnostics, power electronics, production processes engineering and management, advanced technologies and engineering systems, information technologies and systems, nanotechnology, and the application of materials engineering in industry. The authors of theses need to prove the originality of their ideas. The competition is recognisable and valued by the world of science. Taking part in the competition is an opportunity to check the value of the thesis and the obtained results, as well as to check them against the opinion of experienced scientists and researchers from ABB. The event is also a form of exchanging scientific knowledge between universities and industry. 

The ceremony of presenting prizes and certificates took place on 26th May 2017 in Krakow.